You might be asking yourself “what does baseball have to do with politics?” Well, this former baseball player of 14 years is very familiar with the kind of thinking that went into last night’s mess in Atlanta, and it is emblematic of the kind of weak ideology that elected Donald Trump—where some amorphous, indescribable kind of “toughness” is valued more than anything that actually impacts people’s lives. First, we need to set the scene for the uninitiated.
Ronald Acuña Jr. is the hottest hitter in baseball right now. Entering last night’s series finale against the Miami Marlins, the rookie phenom had hit home runs in eight of his last nine games. In each of the previous three games against the Marlins, Acuña hit a home run in his first at-bat. Here’s his first and only at-bat from last night’s game after leaving with an injury.
The Marlins pitcher, José Ureña, said he didn't mean to hit Acuña with his very first pitch of the game. The Braves clearly thought otherwise, and one of the most thoughtful players in baseball—Atlanta Braves pitcher Brandon McCarthy—is convinced the pitch was intentional.
Drawing on my own experience playing baseball, I believe it was intentional too (major league pitchers are too good to miss that badly on a fastball, and the fact that it happened on the very first pitch dramatically raises the possibility that it was intentional). This is where we get into this poisonous ideology that is rampant within baseball. I'll let former New York Mets first baseman Keith Hernandez detail this garbage mindset.
“You lost three games. He’s hit three home runs. You gotta hit him.” What the hell kind of logic is that? I’ll tell you what kind of logic: toxic masculinity manifested. Let’s just walk through the rationale inherent within this belief that far more people in baseball than just Keith Hernandez share.
1. The Marlins can’t get Ronald Acuña out, which is their job.
2. Therefore, Acuña must be hit in order to “send a message.”
3. What kind of message?
4. Uhhhhhhhh, that we still can’t get you out?
This is the “logic” of toxic masculinity at work. Acuña is doing his job and embarrassing the Marlins in the process, so the Keith Hernandez’s of the world believe that the only response is to put Acuña’s health in danger. This is caveman logic, and it’s a hop, skip and a jump away from the ideological base of the Republican Party—which is “doing X to own the libs,” even if X hurts themselves more than liberals (losing your starting pitcher in the first inning is incredibly debilitating to your chances to win, and the Marlins wound up losing last night).
Imagine if basketball players believed that the only response to LeBron James’ greatness is to body-slam him to the ground. That’s effectively the mindset behind intentionally throwing at Acuña simply because he’s better at his job than others. What we are witnessing is a group of men who are having their manhood challenged, and instead of owning up to their mistakes or working harder to get Acuña out, they resort to straight violence in order to prove…again, I don’t really know what this is supposed to prove. I spent my entire childhood and adolescence around people who believed this and none of them could ever articulate what kind of “message” hitting someone in that situation sent.
It’s all emblematic of a toxic mindset where the only acceptable response to a challenge is to puff out your chest and get into a glorified dick-measuring contest. America is inundated with this kind of bullshit masculinity—where your manhood is measured by the amount of violence you can inflict. It reaches every corner of our society. From the belief that all cops have a constitutional right to levy violence upon anyone they deem worthy of it, to the idea that the rest of the world is just a staging ground for America’s military, to the litany of sexual crimes which sparked the #MeToo moment. They’re all different versions of the same kind of selfish, testosterone-fueled illogic.
Boys seem to be broken, and many simply don’t know how to be men. Because of this, we seemed to have reversed course on evolution, and are indulging our primitive reptile brains—which believe that physical conflict is the height of masculinity. The height of masculinity isn’t hurting others to make yourself feel more powerful (or more accurately, to make yourself feel like you’re in control), it’s owning up to your mistakes while working to be better every day. Masculinity is making sacrifices to help others. Masculinity is honesty. Violence is cowardice. The sooner that men learn this, the sooner America can pull out of its self-induced tailspin.
Jacob Weindling is a staff writer for Paste politics. Follow him on Twitter at @Jakeweindling.